IDENTIFY AND DISCUSS THE KEY ELEMENTS OF AN EFFECTIVE ANTI-BULLYING STRATEGY FOR SCHOOLS
A balanced discussion of the key elements of an effective anti-bullying strategy necessitates a brief exposition of some key elements of bullying. Smith and Sharp (1994) describe bullying as “the systematic abuse of power” like physical strength, financial wealth, political position, experience, age.(p.2). At school it is usually thephysically strong and the more experienced students who take advantage of those with small physique or the new ones. Sullivan (2000) agrees that bullying is an abuse of power. He further states that it is “a conscious and wilful act of aggression and/or manipulation by one or more people against another person or people.” (p.9)
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Smith and Sharp (1994) state that about 5-10 percent of children are bullied while about 5 percent of children bully others. According to Sullivan (2000) “there is a direct link between bullying and the family. Bullying can be passed on from generation to generation.” (p.23). Therefore, children who grew up being bullied in their own families are likely to be bullies at school because their experiences disable them from feeling guilty when they bully others. Smith and Sharp (1994) concur when they state that the bullies “also tend to see aggression as an acceptable and realistic way of expressing their social position, perceiving it as being supported by the attitudes of their family.” (p. 5). Tattum (1989) asserts that “Factors such as unemployment, depressed job opportunities, poor housing, decaying inner cities and racial housing undoubtedly have a disruptive effect on families and communities.” (p.1) It is no wonder then, that bullying is a widespread phenomenon in schools.
Victims of bullying are usually non-assertive, shy and lack confidence. New pupils who feel insecure in new surroundings are vulnerable to bullies, and they seldom report the bullying to the authorities for fear of reprisal. Pupils who seek peer acceptance because of some short comings like physical deformities, lower intelligence levels, poverty, are also potential victims of bullying. It is common for girls in particular to try very hard to appease the school popular and beautiful girls, and thus become vulnerable to bullies too.
Racism also plays a hand in school bullying. Children who attend a school where the majority of pupils belong to a different racial group than theirs are often bullied. The foreign pupil more often than not feels helpless and alone, so s/he usually keeps to her/himself. That gives the bullies a perfect opportunity to pounce on them because there is no one to protect the foreigner. Sullivan (2000) mentions a specific example of racist bullying that resulted in the death of a 13-year old Asian boy who was murdered in 1986 by a white teenager at Burnage High School in Manchester. (p12). Another form of bullying that is common in schools is related to sexual harassment where boys especially, force their attentions on unwilling girls. Some students become victims of constant ridicule and bullying because of their sexual orientation. Should a boy or girl show signs of being gay or lesbian, s/he is more likely to receive constant hurtful remarks from others. Sullivan (2000) is careful to point out that we should also know what bullying is not, so that we should differentiate between illegal acts and bullying. He warns that an error or playfulness or even a criminal act may be mistaken for bullying, and therefore receive uncalled for responses.
With the understanding of what bullying is and is not, schools are in a position to develop strategies to address and combat bullying. Of the anti-bullying strategies that Smith and Sharp (1994) discuss, I believe that the ‘whole-school policy’ is the best because it combines elements of all the various other strategies. The whole-school policy aims at establishing and inculcating a culture of zero tolerance to bullying, and its advantage is that it involves entire school communities in its development, hence Rigby (2002) refers to it as a “whole school-community approach” (p.3). It is not a ‘top-down’ policy. Students and authorities who develop the policy experience a sense of ownership and, as Sullivan (2000) puts it, “they will be loyal to it and interested in making sure that it is well implemented.” (p.42). The key elements of the whole-school policy, as discussed in Smith and Sharp (1994) are:
– identifying a need for policy development
– policy development
– implementation of policy
The best way of getting school communities to work on an effective anti-bullying strategy is to make them realize in the first place that there is a need for such a strategy. This means that they have to be motivated to focus on the reality that school bullying exists and it is a problem. Myths like ‘bullying is just a way of making children to become strong’ have to be revisited and dispelled. When open discussions of myths surrounding bullying are held, and when, in the words of Smith and Sharp (1994) “an understanding of the serious effects of bullying on individual lives” (p.64) is reached, concerned parties will agree that there is indeed a need for effective anti-bullying strategies. Rigby (2002) suggests the use of pictures of bullying where bystanders do not help, as another way of getting pupils to talk. (p.72)
During the need identification phase it is helpful to provide access to pertinent and specific information about the incidents of bullying in schools and the effects thereof. The media can assist to publicize actual cases of bullying. National newspapers and television for example, can show the communities how bullies ruin the lives of victims. It is through watching and reading about bullying in schools that school community members will each think of their own experiences of bullying so that when a discussion forum is opened at school, all will feel free to contribute meaningfully. Those who felt alone or who had been thinking that bullying cannot be stopped get a chance of airing their views, and raising a sense of commitment to developing anti-bullying methods. The input of Education Departments and parents can also motivate schools to identify the need for developing anti-bullying strategies. When schools realize that both school inspectors and parents are keen to question their anti-bullying strategies, they double their efforts. Smith and Sharp (1994) go further to state that the demand that schools should offer a safe environment has boosted the competitive spirit among schools so that each wants to project a better ‘image’ than the others. (p.64)
After identifying the need for the establishment of an effective anti-bullying strategy, it is time to develop the policy itself. Recognizing that each school is a unique entity, various ways of going about the development stage will emerge. Smith and Sharp (1994: 65) suggest that amulti-disciplinary working party be formed by representatives of students, teachers, caretakers, playground supervisors and parents. This means that each component of the school community will be able to discuss issues and then delegate its representative/s to the joint working party. When the working party meets, discussion is informed by each subgroup members’ views, so that whatever decision the working party takes, the subgroup will have an input. It is very important at this point to elect reliable and dedicated representatives who will be diligent enough to run back and forth between the working party and the subgroup, informing both sides accordingly.
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After considerable and meaningful deliberations have taken place, the working party needs to draft a policy document. The draft goes back to the subgroups for amendments, where necessary. When it is sent back to the working party and is finalized, every member of the school community knows about it, s/he has made a personal input, and therefore feels that s/he owns it. The final product should explain clearly how every member is expected to handle bullying, meaning that all and sundry will know exactly what to do if and when they find themselves in a bullying situation. Having played a part during the policy development stage, the bully knows what to expect when s/he bullies others. Victims and bystanders, if any, know what recourse to take, and no longer feel helpless, and seem apathetic.
Knowing what to do is different from how to handle a bully. That is why Smith and Sharp (1994) suggest specific training. They make an example of a case where a staff member knows that a victim needs counselling, and that staff member does not have any counselling skills. On the other hand a pupil who knows that s/he needs to stand up to the bully and be assertive may not know how to do that. Workshops are often a useful forum where practical situations can be simulated. It may be necessary for example to give a shy, introvert and physically weak young child exact words to say to a bully, and let them participate in a simulated bullying situation. That may help potential victims to feel confident that they not only know what to do, but also how to act when confronted by a bully.
It is helpful to remember that these practice sessions and workshops should not only be a once-off affair. No issue remains on the top priority list indefinitely. Taking into consideration the fact that most bullies live among bullies in their own backgrounds, they constantly want to bully others in return, and so the implementation of the school anti-bullying strategies must be on-going. Newcomers to a school also need to be considered because without receiving training they might weaken the school’s anti-bullying strategy. Smith and Sharp (1994) mention comments of teachers who participated in the Sheffield study and who all agreed that without ongoing maintenance “even a good project can slowly die”. (p.67).
A word of caution from Smith and Sharp (1994) is that the implementation of the anti-bullying strategy should be done by all members of the school community. It is no good if the teachers of a school for instance, do not support the head teacher because the bullies might see through that and continue their bullyingwhile the victims and bystanders revert to their apathetic state. Tattum (1989) shares findings of his research on pupils with behavioral problems who blamed the teachers for “inconsistency of rule application.” (p.52). The management team should devise a programme whereby regular checks on the strategy are conducted to ensure consistency and that bullying is not neglected when other problems like truancy or the use of drugs arise. Teachers can use the school assembly and individual lessons to promote the culture of good citizenship. A system of rewards for co-operative behaviour can also be set in place so that even bullies receive recognition and praise for their good efforts.
The creation and implementation of a good strategy does not guarantee success. There is a need to evaluate whether a policy is achieving the desired results or not. A school that is using the whole-school anti-bullying approach needs to evaluate its success. Bullying needs to decrease in all areas of the school – be it in the classroom, the corridors, the playground or the toilets. Surveys where respondents remain anonymous can help the school to evaluate the success of its programme. All members of the school community must be able to remark on the strengths and weaknesses of the present system and they must be given a space to suggest changes. The suggestions put forward in the surveys should be taken seriously if the participants are to be encouraged to be vigilant of their systems. After each survey a committee consisting of representatives from the subgroups of the school community must meet and discuss the suggestions and revise the present strategy accordingly.
The whole-school policy cannot be completely successful without the support and co-operation of various outside bodies. The Education Departments, expert policy developers, educational psychologists, to name just a few, should support the school so that all the members of its community can play their roles with confidence.
Rigby, K. (2002) New Perspectives on Bullying. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Smith, P.K. and Sharp, S. (eds.) (1994) School Bullying: Insights and Perspectives. London: Routledge.
Sullivan, K. (2000) The Anti-Bullying Handbook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tattum, D. (ed.) (1989) Disruptive Pupil Management. London: David Fulton.
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